Saturday, February 28, 2009

Internet Service Providers Not Providing

I sort of grew as a businessperson along with the era of the Internet and modern technology. However, there is still so much for me to get used to and it is growing on a daily basis. It is one thing to have been involved in this growth all along, but quite another to be able to keep up with it; and, when you are blind or do not have enough vision to see things, there is a huge gap.

The mainstream person (someone without stereotypical special needs) who is lucky enough to be able to see and learn things, who can easily understand and fix technical problems, and who knows how to communicate with technical support teams at their Internet service providers, can consider themselves lucky. However for me, the picture is different. Yes, for the most part when a glitch occurs in my Internet service I can understand what is going on, but the trouble starts when I try to communicate this to technicians at my Internet service provider.

You see, my Internet service provider is staffed with technicians whose first language is not English and their culture is one where they have not been exposed to persons who are either technically disabled or otherwise disabled due to anyone of the following: hearing, sight, or physical impairments. So whenever I phone them with a problem, they are at a loss as how to communicate with me. 99% of the time, I spend the first 15 minutes trying to explain why I am unable to give them the requested info about my modem. The conversation goes something like this:

Technician: "Please give me the model number on your modem."
Donna: "Sorry, but I can't because I am blind."
Technician: "Well, do you see the lights on your modem?"
Donna: "No, I do not see any lights on my modem because I am blind."
Technician: "Okay, then what color is your modem?"
Donna: "Sir, I told you that I am unable to see because I am blind."

After about 15 minutes of this type of conversation the technician finally gets it and understands that something is wrong with me, and he then informs me that maybe my modem is not working. This occurs after much wasted energy and only after I have convinced him to check to see if there is a signal to my modem from his end. He tells me that there is no signal, so the modem is dead. He is going to order a new modem for me but guess what? I will not be able to install the modem when it arrives because it requires vision to do so.

We haggle on the phone for another 15 minutes, and in the end I am told that there is no one from the company to help me with this at the present time. A technician will not be available until about three days later. So in the meantime, I will have to do without Internet service. Tough. If I really want to restore my Internet service sooner than this, I will need to pay a technician about $100 to come to my home office and install the modem which the Internet service provider is only too willing to send to me via priority post.

So what is the problem here? As a general rule of thumb, most Internet service providers do not provide on site technical support to their customers. If you need help over and above phone support, you are out of luck and you will have to pay out of your pocket for on site technical support. What disturbs me greatly is that my particular Internet service provider falls woefully short when it comes to both phone support and lack of on-site support. Yet every month they are more than happy to accept my payments, but if you make the mistake of missing a payment one month, then see how quickly they will cut your services.

What Internet service providers need to understand is this: Their bread and butter consumers of tomorrow will be those who did not grow up in the age of technology. Aging baby boomers, retirees, seniors, and the ever-growing number of those with physical, hearing, and vision challenges. If they continue to ignore these consumers, then much sooner than later they will find themselves facing a massive exit of customers seeking better services or even more serious may be a series of lawsuits by customers who will take them to court over inadequate service.

Internet service providers need to provide better support services to their consumers; phone support by technicians who can communicate better in English, and reliable on-site support. This can all be accomplished but we need to have cooperation and communication between Internet service providers and their consumers.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan, your accessibility and business needs consultant, wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to start educating your Internet service providers as to how they can better serve their bread and butter consumers of tomorrow.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Problem With Warning Signs

Believe it or not, warning signs play a very crucial and important part in our daily lives. We put them up when we need to warn others of pending danger or perils, and we also depend on them to tell us when we need to be aware of something that could potentially harm or hurt us. 99.9% of the time, these signs are very easy to see because they are constructed using extremely bright and garish colors and are almost always strategically placed so that they are easy to spot. However, there is one huge factor that most of the sighted world still seems to miss: Warning signs don't talk. Allow me to explain why this is an issue by giving you a real-life example.

A few weeks ago when I stepped out of my condominium to walk to the elevator, I was greeted by a strong smell of paint. I immediately knew that the workmen were painting close by, but what I did not know was precisely where. I decided to be super careful as I walked but soon ran into trouble when my jacket came in contact with wet paint on the wall close to my door. Before I knew it, the sleeve of my jacket was covered with paint.

When I went to the management office to ask that in future they let me know when and where they would be painting, their response was, "Well, did you not see the wet paint sign tacked onto your door?" When I told them that I did not because I am blind, they replied, "Maybe you should simply be more careful whenever you smell paint."

This interaction totally frustrated me, as it is only one in a long line of such incidents throughout my life. Before leaving the office I told them that maybe in the future they should try to develop a sign that would talk to me instead and would let me know what I needed to. Unfortunately, this did not go over very well and a few days later I returned to the office to have a chat with the management team to try to enlighten them about such matters.

The lesson here is that it accomplishes nothing for me to be sarcastic to the staff at the management office or any of the myriad places where obstacles – both literal and figurative -- occur. Instead, I need to find ways to help them to understand why it is important for them to ensure that warning signs are communicated to all tenants, both mainstream as well as those with special needs. Working with them to find a solution is what is best for all concerned.

I was able to convince them that they need to communicate with all of the condominium dwellers whenever they are putting up warning signs because doing this will not only benefit me, it will also benefit those who are unable to read easily due to an age- or medical-related disability.

There are millions of persons in our world who are unable to read for various reasons, and they are classified as "print disabled." Warning signs are of great value if you can see them, but for those of us who are either unable to see or read them, they become literally useless and more of a hazard if we end up bumping into them and injuring ourselves. It is time for the rest of the world, starting with those around us, to be educated. These are issues the sighted world has never considered, so it is my mission to start the process, and I'm delighted to do so. If we all keep the sighted and special-needs communities in mind as we go through our daily lives, it will help more people than we can imagine.

An Introduction: If I could see what you see...

... what a better world it would be!

Five years ago my world came crashing down when I lost almost all of my vision. I was born blind but was able to see colours, shapes, shadows, and light. Then, when I was a teen I received one of the most precious gifts in life; new vision due to a cornea transplant. My whole world suddenly opened up and expanded, and my life changed drastically. My new life lasted for almost 25 years but sadly, it came to a sudden, unexpected end on one of the coldest Canadian winter days in January of 2004. On that day, as fat snowflakes chased each other outside and the frigid winds howled at the landscape, doctors crowded into an operating room in downtown Toronto to try to save my sight. The team of surgeons and residents fought valiantly, but in the end they had to admit defeat.

My retina had detached in three places; it was one of the worst detachments that they had ever seen and blood had trickled in to the eye causing damage to the cornea. The end result was devastating: 99% of my vision was gone and it was to herald the start of a new path for me. While it is true that I was born with a visual impairment – to put it more bluntly, I was born blind -- but what most of the world does not fully realize is this: Every bit of vision counts and when you go from being able to see light to barely seeing shadows, the change is traumatic!

I have spent the last five years living as a person who is almost totally blind. I have gone from a kid with useful vision, to a teen with a lot of vision, to someone who is now fighting to keep my head above water in the fall years of my career. As a realist, I know that as I approach retirement within the next decade, life is only going to get more challenging for me. However, I am not prepared to limit my life, shrink my world, or change my persona in any way. And, I fully realize I am not alone. Many are facing challenges and becoming part of the special-needs community, especially as the population ages.

No, what I am going to do is produce blogs that you can use to help others. To help your kids overcome challenges, show your parents and friends how to deal with disabilities and drawbacks, and make companies and governments accountable to you whenever they fail to respect your rights as human beings.

I am going to use my life experiences and skills as an accessibility and special-needs business consultant to help you.

My most heartfelt mission is to ensure that the children of the future have equal access to information and job opportunities. I have many supporters and motivators to keep me going, and whenever I feel myself stumbling all I need to do is to remember the final words of my brother Robert who succumbed to cancer in May of 2007.

As he began his final approach to the other side, he managed to take one last look at his wife and doctor and softly plead, "Somebody do something!" It breaks my heart every time I think of his plea, and that they were unable to do anything.

But I know I can do something…something to help. I faithfully promise that I will not give up.

So, I invite you now to walk with me, and during our time together I will tell you all about some of the most common problems that you could and would encounter both as a person with a disability and/or someone who knows someone with a disability. I will also provide you with suggestions and solutions from both myself and from others.

Until next…